Surveillance: America's Pastime by Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: naixn, Jason Smith / feastoffun.com) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Surveillance: America's Pastime by Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: naixn, Jason Smith / feastoffun.com) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Surveillance

TED2014_DD_DSC_4086_1920 by TED Conference (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/mbS2uD

Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era

Edward Snowden burst into the public consciousness in June 2013 with a series of astonishing revelations about U.S. surveillance activities. Snowden’s primary focus has centered on the U.S., however the steady stream of documents have laid bare the notable role of allied surveillance agencies, including the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s signals intelligence agency. The Canadian-related leaks – including disclosures regarding surveillance over millions of Internet downloads, airport wireless networks, spying on the Brazilian government, and the facilitation of spying at the G8 and G20 meetings hosted in Toronto in 2010 – have unsurprisingly inspired some domestic discussion and increased media coverage on privacy and surveillance issues. Yet despite increased public and media attention, the Snowden leaks have thus far failed to generate sustained political debate in Canada.

I am delighted to report that this week the University of Ottawa Press published Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era, an effort by some of Canada’s leading privacy, security, and surveillance scholars to provide a Canadian-centric perspective on the issues. The book is available for purchase and is also available in its entirety as a free download under a Creative Commons licence. This book is part of the UOP’s collection on law, technology and media (I am pleased to serve as the collection editor) that also includes my earlier collection on the Copyright Pentalogy and a new book from my colleagues Jane Bailey and Valerie Steeves titled eGirls, eCitizens. All books in the collection are available as open access PDF downloads.

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May 29, 2015 5 comments Books, News
System Lock by Yuri Samoilov (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/mjhubJ

You’re on Your Own: How the Government Wants Canadians To Sacrifice Their Personal Security

Another week, another revelation originating from the seemingly unlimited trove of Edward Snowden documents. Last week, the CBC reported that Canada was among several countries whose surveillance agencies actively exploited security vulnerabilities in a popular mobile web browser used by hundreds of millions of people. Rather than alerting the company and the public that the software was leaking personal information, they viewed the security gaps as a surveillance opportunity.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that in the days before Snowden, these reports would have sparked a huge uproar. More than half a billion people around the world use UC Browser, the mobile browser in question, suggesting that this represents a massive security leak. At stake was information related to users’ identity, communication activities, and location data – all accessible to telecom companies, network providers, and surveillance agencies.

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May 28, 2015 2 comments Columns
Privacy is not a Crime by Jürgen Telkmann (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/pDmshR

Why Watching the Watchers Isn’t Enough: My Talk on Privacy, Snowden & Bill C-51

Last month, I had the honour of speaking at the Pathways to Privacy Symposium, a privacy event sponsored by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and hosted by the University of Ottawa. The event featured many excellent presentations (the full seven hours can be viewed here). My talk focused on the recent emphasis on the need to improve oversight, a common refrain in reaction to both the Snowden surveillance revelations and Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill.  While better oversight is necessary, I argue that it is not sufficient to address the legal shortcomings found in both Canada’s surveillance legislation and Bill C-51. The full talk (which unfortunately has slightly delayed sound) can be viewed here or below.

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March 4, 2015 3 comments News, Video
Protection for Snowden by greensefa (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/kY8n8o

Citizen Four and the Canadian Surveillance Story

Citizen Four, Laura Poitras’ enormously important behind-the-scenes documentary film on Edward Snowden, won the Academy Award last night for best documentary. The film is truly a must-see for anyone concerned with privacy and surveillance. It not only provides a compelling reminder of the massive scale and scope of surveillance today, but it also exposes us to the human side of Snowden’s decision to leave his life behind in order to tell the world about secret surveillance activity.

Canada is not mentioned in the film, but that is not because we have been immune to similar surveillance activity. In the months since the Snowden revelations began, there have been many Canadian-related stories including reports on G8/G20 spying, industrial spying in Brazil, the “airport wifi” surveillance program, and the massive Internet download surveillance program.

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February 23, 2015 7 comments News
Russell Wilson by Keith Allison (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/phepKu

The Canadian Privacy and Civil Liberties Punch in the Gut (or Why CSE/CSIS Oversight is Not Enough)

As a lifelong Seattle Seahawks fan, this past Sunday’s Super Bowl – with the Hawks a yard away from winning their second straight championship only to give up a late interception – felt like a punch in the gut. Nearly two days later, I’m still trying to catch my breath. The end to Super Bowl 49 was the actually second time in the week that I was left feeling shocked and speechless. Throughout the week, the combination of Snowden revelations regarding Canada’s role in the daily tracking the Internet activities of millions and the introduction of Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation, left me similarly grappling to make sense of the swirling developments.

It would appear that the immediate response from many, particularly the opposition parties, has centered on the need for improved accountability and oversight. There is no doubt that the failure to address Canada’s weak oversight system of surveillance and intelligence activities is a major flaw (particularly since oversight was actually reduced in 2012).  For a government that introduced the Federal Accountability Act as its very first piece of legislation (and supported more oversight when in opposition) to now dismiss oversight as “red tape” is simply shameful. Better oversight and accountability should be a proverbial “no-brainer”: it bolsters public confidence and, as demonstrated elsewhere, need not undermine security-related operations.

Yet the problem with oversight and accountability as the primary focus is that it leaves the substantive law (in the case of CSE Internet surveillance) or proposed law (as in the case of C-51) largely unaddressed. If we fail to examine the shortcomings within the current law or within Bill C-51, no amount of accountability, oversight, or review will restore the loss of privacy and civil liberties.

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February 3, 2015 10 comments News